The original Ghost Recon was one of those love-hate types of games; where gamers were either drawn into its incredibly realistic combat, tactics, and relatively slow pacing or pushed away by those very same features, and there wasn't much of a middle ground of which to speak. Still, Ghost Recon had some nice features to balance out the hard-edge of realism, such as co-op play and the ability to continue playing as another one of your soldiers, should your current character get dropped. Ghost Recon 2 is largely the same "style" of game as its predecessor in terms of its overall gameplay and realism, though it differs substantially in a variety of ways.
For starters, the presentation itself has taken a widely different and bafflingly unique means of setting up the back-story and plot. Starting off a new campaign greets you with a brief intro about the Ghosts from a military historian's standpoint, on a television show called "Modern Heroes" that looks and sounds exactly like something you would see on The History Channel. Narrating the game's cutscenes is a retired Army officer, and before every mission, you and the members of your squad give firsthand accounts of the battle. The effect is rather stellar as a whole and really sets up not only the mission itself, but also the mood of the game and the personalities of your squad mates in one fell swoop.
In the original Ghost Recon, you played as the leader of one of two squads of soldiers, with three soldiers in each squad. You could use a GPS map to give orders and waypoints to each squad, a la Rainbow Six, without which the AI would act about as intelligently as a cold stone. Ghost Recon 2 mixes it up a bit by consolidating the soldiers in your command into one squad of four soldiers that you directly control. Commands can be given by button presses or by using the Xbox Live headset, though the voice recognition works far less often than not only one would expect, but also worse than Rainbow Six 3, another Red Storm title with a nearly impeccable voice recognition feature.
Either way, you can give a variety of bread-and-butter orders, such as regroup, advance, hold fire / fire at will, and attack, and fancier orders such as flanking maneuvers, suppressing fire, and to utilize fixed weapon emplacements. You cannot give orders on the map screen, though it is a moot issue as the only squad to whom you need to issue orders is the one you lead in person anyway.
The AI has been substantially increased, and both enemies and allied soldiers not under your command with take cover when shot at, retreat when outnumbered, and attempt to flank you. Your squad mates are equally as smart but always stay by your side and simply drop to the ground when it hits the fan as opposed to breaking formation and fleeing behind a rock or tree. Another departure from the formula of the original is the ability to play in a third-person, over-the-shoulder perspective. Realism purists will scoff at such a thing, but can rest assured that the first-person mode is also available for use, making it a matter of personal preference. In first-person view, you don't have as much peripheral vision, and in third-person, your view is partially obscured by your soldier.
The gameplay in Ghost Recon 2 retains most of the realism and tact found in its predecessor though it has been toned down a bit. One shot can still kill, but it often takes two or more to actually drop you. Friendly soldiers can get hit and go down, but if they aren't wounded too badly, they can get medical attention from anyone in the squad to bring them back up to combat readiness despite still being wounded. However, when the player character goes down, you cannot get healed by a medic, and cannot switch to another soldier; it's simply the end of the mission for you. Getting the same medic treatment as the AI would have been nice, not to mention consistent, but balancing it out for the sake of realism is the ability to save mid-mission.
In Ghost Recon 2, you simply can't run and gun as you would in something like Halo 2 unless you are trying to find the shortest route to a dirt nap. Firing from a crouching position while behind cover in short bursts is the way to go, as it leaves not only a small amount of your body exposed but also gives you good accuracy at long range. Moving faster than a snail's pace causes your aim to go south in a hurry, making combat in the game a realistic matter of firing from cover and only moving to another spot of cover when the opportunity presents or requires itself.
There is a small variety of guns to choose from, ranging from your standard M4s, SAWs, and side arms such as the M9 and 1911D to the exotic such as the M29 rifle with integrated gun-cam. Three missions in Ghost Recon 2 make you trade your squad members to go it alone with the M29 and its associated systems. The previously mentioned gun-cam allows you to hold the gun to one side and still shoot accurately thanks to a video feed to an eyepiece on your helmet, though the tactical advantage of this is much lesser than one would think.
More often than not, it seems that it would be more beneficial to just lean out or even move out and fire than to use the gun-cam, which forces you to remain stationary. Bringing the point home is that you seemingly get hit just as often when using the gun-cam and exposing only the gun and your hands, as you would in a crouch leaning out. Call me crazy, but it breaks the immersion somewhat when a North Korean soldier firing an AK from a standing position in long bursts can kill you by shooting you in the hands and gun from roughly 160 feet away before he runs through his first clip. The M29 also has a ranged airburst feature for its grenade launcher, which allows you to set an exact distance for a grenade to fly before it explodes in midair.
The three solo missions also make for free use of the ability to call down air strikes on tanks and other types of enemy armor. In all, the features of the solo missions are a good idea, but you won't exactly be missing them once you get your squad back and the help they provide.
The graphics have been upped quite a bit from the admitted aging original title, though the overall look remains the same. The environments are now completely outdoors, and unlike the original title, there are no indoor segments whatsoever, though the environments range the gamut from close quarters urban fighting to long-range combat in the woods and jungles. Just as it was in the original title, you cannot see your weapon, which isn't as big of a disadvantage as you would expect; it merely takes some getting used to.
Although the game doesn't wear it on its sleeve like most do, Ghost Recon 2 does make decent use of one of the most realistic physics engines seen on a console. Enemies fall over fairly realistically when shot and do so with a speed and form that looks just right, and enemies never bounce around after getting shot or twitter on the ground. However, the physics engine doesn't take the location of where the person got shot into account; a headshot causes an enemy soldier to just fall over like he fell asleep rather than causing his head and then his entirely body to fall away from the shot.
It can be difficult to pick out enemies amongst the foliage thanks to the limited resolution that a television can provide as opposed to a monitor, though the main complaint is the age old "grass blocks my vision when prone but not the enemy's vision". Nonetheless, the cutscenes look really good, both the rendered ones in between missions and the in-game ones setting up the mission, and the weapon effects are on the money most of the time.
Whatever low spots Ghost Recon 2 has in its audio presentation, it makes up for in its sounds. Weapon sound effects all sound fairly distinct and crisp, but what really sets the game is the ambient effects and the voices. When in a big battle, you can hear all of the gunfire combine to form a wonderful background to the combat, or you can hear the bubbling of a stream as you pass near it.
The voice work is done well and is used fairly liberally: squad mates confirming your orders, calling out enemy positions, and even the cries and yells of the North Korean soldiers as officers yell orders and soldiers take hits and cry out in pain. By far the best voice work is done in the rendered cutscenes between missions which absolutely bleed atmosphere. The only real nuisance in the sounds is that, if the Xbox Live headset can be used to give orders using the microphone, why not use the earpiece to play radio transmissions and such rather than the speakers?
Co-op play makes its return in Ghost Recon 2, allowing two people to work together to complete all of the single player campaign levels, minus the three solo missions. The rest of the multiplayer component is largely similar to that of the original game, only with enhanced features (realism buffs will like the option to force all players into a first-person viewpoint), and is undoubtedly one of the best Xbox Live enabled titles for those looking for realistic, outdoor combat, given that Rainbow Six 3 holds the crown for realistic indoor/close quarters combat and Halo 2 holds the crown for, well, everything else.
Essentially, Ghost Recon 2 is the original title with a better engine and gameplay that caters a little less heavily to the realism buffs, though not by too much. The core gameplay is still based on realism and tactics rather than running around like Rambo, but the simplified command interface and the ability to save mid-mission will likely appeal to those who found the original title to be too stuffy. The solo missions are a good idea on paper but really don't pan out too well in actuality, but being as there are only three of them, it makes it less of a flaw and more of a brief nuisance.
The single player game is compelling enough, though it seems to get a bit repetitive after the first six levels or so, but the multiplayer is enough to keep anyone with an Xbox Live account happy for quite some time. Overall, Ghost Recon 2 isn't the best shooter on the Xbox nor is it the best Live title, but it is one of the best choices for a gamer looking for a realistic take on modern warfare.
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